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NFPA Offers Tips for Fire Safety in Public Buildings

In response to recent fires in Oakland, Calif., Cambridge, Mass., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., NFPA urged the public to be aware of their surroundings while in public buildings this season in order to best protect themselves in the event of a fire or other emergency. NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley delivered the association's tips, saying people need to practice them and not become complacent.

"We urge people to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves when they're in public buildings like malls, theaters, entertainment arenas, and restaurants. This is particularly important during the holiday season, when these types of places are often very crowded," said Pauley. Most people don't consider fire a significant risk, and complacency is one of the greatest dangers when it comes to fire safety, he explained.

"No one ever thinks it will happen to them – until it does," he said. "We hope these tragic incidents remind people that fires can and do happen and that they need to be prepared in the event of one."

NFPA's fire safety tips for entering and spending time in public buildings include:

Before you enter

  • Take a good look. Does the building appear to be in a condition that makes you feel safe? Is the main entrance wide, and does it open outward to allow easy exit? Is the outside area clear of materials stored against the building or blocking exits?
  • Have a communication plan. Identify a relative or friend to contact in case you are separated from family or friends in an emergency.
  • Plan a meeting place. Pick a meeting place outside to meet family or friends with whom you are attending the function. If there is an emergency, be sure to meet them there.

When you enter

  • Locate exits immediately. When you enter a building, make sure to identify all available exits. Some exits may be in front and some in back of you. Be prepared to use your closest exit. You may not be able to use the main exit.
  • Check for clear exit paths. Make sure aisles are wide enough and not obstructed by chairs or furniture. Check to make sure your exit door is not blocked or chained. If there are not at least two exits or exit paths are blocked, report the violation to management and leave the building if it is not immediately addressed. Call the local fire marshal to register a complaint.
  • Do you feel safe? Does the building appear to be overcrowded? Are there fire sources such as candles burning, cigarettes or cigars burning, pyrotechnics, or other heat sources that may make you feel unsafe? Are there safety systems in place such as alternative exits, sprinklers, and smoke alarms? Ask the management for clarification about your concerns. If you do not feel safe in the building, leave immediately.

During an emergency

  • React immediately. If an alarm sounds, you see smoke or fire, or other unusual disturbance, immediately exit the building in an orderly fashion.
  • Get out, stay out! Once you have escaped, stay out. Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. Let trained firefighters conduct rescue operations.

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